Teach Me

Supporting an Adult Child with Mental Illness

Millions of children and young adults are living with a mental health disorder. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 50% of mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% begins by age 25, increasing significantly just in the last decade.

Though emerging into adulthood can come with some growing pains, it can be even tougher for those with underlying mental health issues. When your child was young, you had a high level of involvement in their overall care and well-being. After 18, however, your adult child will now call their own shots.

It can be difficult to stand back and watch your child launch into young adulthood and navigate life with a mental illness. How should you adjust your approach to parenting from a distance while being available to offer assistance when they might need it along the way?

“As a parent, it can be hard to find a balance between being overly involved and giving them their independence, especially if they are navigating a mental health disorder as well,” said Jerimya Fox, a licensed professional counselor and a doctor of behavioral health at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital. “But it is possible."

Dr. Fox shares five ways you as a parent or caregiver can support your young adult with a mental health disorder.

Use non-judgmental support

Listen, ask questions and avoid providing advice, unless they ask for it. Show them you won’t judge or criticize them for their feelings, choices or decisions.

“This might sound like common sense, but it is very easy for us to judge others, even our own children,” Dr. Fox said. “Instead of focusing on their behaviors, try to understand their feelings and what they may be going through. Remind them you are on the same team.”

Empower them

Over time, you’ll want to discuss a plan with your child for managing their mental illness, so once they do turn 18, it won’t feel like a Band-Aid has been ripped off. Through your discussions, you can arm them for success.

Potential discussions include:

  • Medications and refills
  • Counseling and mental health resources
  • Self-medicating
  • Suicide
  • Positive life-style habits
  • Proper diet and exercise
  • The importance of sleep
  • Substance abuse
  • How to deal while away at college
Let them know you are there for them

Always let them know you are there for them and you love them. When or if they want to reach out, you’ll be there, without judgement and with love.

“Your adult child may not want your help, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to care,” Dr. Fox said.

Encourage them to get help

Create an environment where seeking help is supported and encouraged, instead of looked at as a weakness.

“Ultimately, it’s up to them to take advantage of services,” Dr. Fox said. “If they don’t fear being discriminated against or stigmatized, it’ll be a lot easier to seek the help they need.”

Find support … for yourself

Don’t go through this alone. Make sure you get help for yourself. Find a support group for parents/caregivers of someone with a mental illness. Check with your local mental health clinics or your primary care provider for additional resources and support.

“One of the best things you can to do to keep them mentally healthy, is take care of yourself,” Dr. Fox said. “Modeling good habits will create a healthier environment for your adult child.”

If you or your adult child are looking to speak with a counselor or a licensed behavioral health specialist, visit bannerhealth.com.

988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (formerly The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline): Call 988 if you or a loved one is contemplating suicide.

Other useful articles:

Behavioral Health Depression Parenting